Ask the Chief: a necessary skill for the self-employed

A skill that anyone with something to protect, whether consumer or a business owner, is developing shrewd thinking. Most understand that identity or intellectual property theft occurs through phishing in email and hidden code in compromised websites. However, old fashioned schemes to separate the unwary from their income, disguised as personal or business “services”, are no less successful a lot of the time.

An emailed newsletter from the California Office of Attorney General this week reported charges being filed against a man who defrauded veterans’ families with false college tuition waivers, for which he charged $500, netting him about $500,000. But this is far from the only scam that victimizes veteran and non-veteran alike. This afternoon, my mom n’ pop small business received a fairly sophisticated mailing (arriving by Postal Service) that wanted to assist my business with filing a California form – for $150 – that I have routinely filed, free of charge, with the state. This scam sends an official-looking form warning of the consequences of not filing required documentation, and is populated with the publicly-available information on your business, to confuse a novice business owner. Of course, this scammer assumes that small business people would react without having the experience to know that these things do not require a third-party’s assistance. But then the scammer knows that he or she only needs a few among thousands of new business owners to send them the fee, to enrich themselves.

The State of California’s OAG has been prosecuting perpetrators of this sort of scam for more than a decade. Apparently, this is some sort of mass mailing. However, any criminal who intends to defraud a military veteran should be forewarned. We have all been subject to the just-off-base” hucksters who have sold our young military men and women everything from revolving contract gym memberships, multi-level marketing schemes, herbal remedies, and vehicle-service contracts. A year or more into our enlistment, we all become a bit more shrewd in discerning what we are getting for our hard-earned pay. Most veterans have various sage wisdom (or cynicism) that all come down to “I may have been born at night, but not last night. Get lost!”

Keeping your identity, finances, and personal information secure, and especially when you are in business for yourself (and cannot afford Wall Street attorneys). It is a full-time occupation. While I would toss this obvious nonsense in the trash, I will instead forward this to the Attorney General as the website indicated. I’m perhaps too cynical about taxes, fees, and business. While this is California, I will imagine that there are thousand of other mailings in mailboxes or en route at this time..

Ask the Chief: is public health, like national security, a responsibility of Government?

It is the summer of 2022 and our household managed to stave off COVID until early July. In spite of the furor of a pandemic since late 2019, we maintained a ‘common sense’ approach to wearing masks and being vaccinated. Small measures to mitigate the effect to our business, employees and clients. Since we perform services for a large number of people, requiring all parties to wear masks has also helped us dodge cold and flu viruses. But not entirely safe. Catching the latest strain of COVID was both annoying and caused breathing difficulty that lingered long after we tested negative for COVID. Were we not vaccinated I can only imagine how severe it might have been?

Whether the issues are public safety, the economy, food and product safety, or infrastructure (transportation, roads, etc), most citizens and most consumers are supportive of oversight that leads to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. But are government mandates to mitigate the spread of a virulent disease appropriate? Is public health in the purview of a constitutional government? And if so, which is the most appropriate agent – each local community, county, state or federal? Volumes could and have been written on these topics. Social media is overflowing with commentary on rights, wrongs, opinions, and conspiracies on these things.

As a military veteran, we were required to submit to vaccinations for everything from tuberculosis to anthrax. This was one of the measures to maintain a disease-resistant fighting force in areas our forces operated. And our nation was a party to international agreements on a whole host of topics that benefited one another. More than seventy years ago, the international community made health one of its responsibilities. Every few years a disease like the Swine Flu or Bird Flu, Ebola or SARS COVID-II, and infestations of insects, parasites, plants and animals are transmitted globally through international travelers and trade. Without governmental oversight, the response to an outbreak of disease, parasites, or organisms affecting local populations would neither have the resources nor experience to respond appropriately.

Have you encountered a “pension poacher”?

Every day many of us receive a call or email from a scammer intent on stealing our hard-earned savings, benefits or property. The Veterans Administration is warning military pensioners to be vigilant for unsolicited contact by pleasant-sounding people who intend to fleece us.

Highlights of their article:

To avoid being a victim to these tactics, here are some helpful tips to remember when protecting yourself from fraud:

Be suspicious if someone offers to shift your assets around to qualify for VA pension. You may be required to repay benefits to the government. 

NEVER share eBenefits, VA.gov, or other VA login credentials with anyone.

VA does not threaten or take adverse actions such as jail or lawsuits on claimants. If in doubt, call VA directly at 1-800-827-1000.

To report suspected activity, please contact the VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) by calling 1-800-488-8244. You may also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission by visiting http://www.consumercomplaints.fcc.gov.

folding clothes and other lost habits

A popular video that still makes the rounds on the Internet, a now-retired Admiral and Commander of Naval Special Warfare (SEAL), shared that your best days begin by making your bed. Today, I read a post on Facebook from the Naval History and Heritage command which reminded me of my early Navy days. It has a series of illustrations of how a Sailor’s uniforms were folded so they would fit in a seabag. Folding precisely was necessary to fit in the minimum space provided (shipboard life has exacting space for each member). While many of us had parents who modeled that sort of self-discipline of making your bed, folding your clothes, taking out your laundry to be washed and dried, and other household chores growing up, many did not. But the military service branches, when we all entered recruit training, would change us all into the sort that had an eye for detail, precision in our activities, and ability to stow our military uniforms and personal effects in the space we were given.

More than two decades have passed since I was part of a shipboard crew, and half that since I last wore the uniform. While the attention to detail and attitude about priorities and performance may still be part of my DNA, sadly other habits have gotten sloppier. No sharp creases in my skivvies, nor do my belongings neatly fit in my much larger “coffin locker” (the small storage space below each sailor’s bunk aboard ship) closets and a 5 -drawer dresser. Linens on my made-up bed would never bounce a quarter, nor do I take 3-minute showers (spray to wet, soap down, spray to rinse, get dressed). I do not stencil my underwear, nor do I fastidiously clean floors, walls, showers to Navy standards. While standards have been stretched over the years, the habits of nearly 30 years do result in frequent “field days”. And I still have Army, Navy and Marine veterans who may visit from time to time. Informal inspections can happen at any time (and my spouse keeps me mindful that a clean home is an inviting home) so I am well-stocked with cleaning agents.

Mermaid of Mission Bay

I thought it might portend good fortune yesterday morning when my companions and I departed Mission Bay (San Diego) for a couple hours of fishing. A mermaid was taking in some pleasant weather in the middle of the channel. She hadn’t much to say as to where to find hungry fish. Perhaps she was just dreaming of our region’s famous fish tacos; the boats all sitting off La Jolla didn’t seem to have any better luck. (A mutual friend of ours once reminded me that the hobby was not called “catching” as it takes skill and proper timing.) But i will still go as often as I’m invited. A career Navy man, I need to put to sea every so often to refresh my retired Sailor “Saltiness”. And seeing a mermaid, gives me another sea story to share with my readers.

Ask the Chief: discipline for a lifetime

Asking civilians or military recruits what discipline means and most think of a response to their improper behavior. Though misbehavior as a child may have resulted in a paddling, the intended lessons ideally instill self as well as interpersonal responsibilities and life skills. A dictionary defines discipline as “the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior, using punishment to correct disobedience; (2) activity or experience that provides mental or physical training“. Military recruits are taught obedience to orders, attention to detail, and military-purposed routine from their first moment of bootcamp. Drill instructors shout instructions, demand pushups for inattentiveness, toss trashcans in barracks and rouse sleepers at “o-dark thirty”, to create responsive servicemen and women out of “undisciplined” civilians. Training includes the smallest details like folding underwear, cleaning surfaces by removing the least individual dustball, paint chip or strand of pubic hair, or repeating memorized creeds and military orders. Infractions are dealt in a number of ways individually but also as a unit. With the goal of developing a soldier, apprentice or disciple out of a layman, punishment can be misinterpreted. Unless it is associated to a lesson or skill, temporary acceptance can be due to fear and not an individual’s commitment. One such goal of recruit training is to create interdependence. Individually or in a group, people who wholeheartedly commit, imitating to the smallest detail an expert in karate, a multi-millionaire businessman, or a United States Marine, will change positively. And those positive changes may still be seen 20, 30 or 40 years later in one’s life.

Grand Old Flag

You're a grand old flag,
You're a high flying flag
And forever in peace may you wave.
You're the emblem of
The land I love.
The home of the free and the brave.
Every heart beats true
'Neath the Red, White and Blue,
Where there's never a boast or brag.
Should all acquaintance be forgot,
Keep your eye on the grand old flag. 
-George M Cohan, composer

Composer George M Cohan wrote these lyrics more than a century ago, at a time when the United States flag was a rallying symbol for a nation of “Americans” formed out of immigrants.  Over millennia, flags have been the banners under which people have rallied to wars of liberation and independence, as well as peaceful demonstrations for equality. Some deliberately provoke anger as their banners recall times of injustice or genocide. Though any student of history can dwell on the sins of a nation, the United States being no exception, the advances in medicine, agriculture, industrial output, other sciences, in education and literacy, in the United States made our national ensign a symbol well known in every part of the world. As a veteran and history buff, the history of the American flag is interesting and remains a symbol of pride. How did our national ensign emerge?

St Andrews cross
Grand Union Flag (pre-revolution)

For a century prior to the Revolutionary War, the American colonist flew a derivation of the ensign of Great Britain with various symbols that were historically significant in Britain, such as the cross of St. Andrews or the cross of Saint George.  The Union flag, which first flew on British naval ships in 1634. With several changes instituted and then reverted by monarchs for the next century, the colonist adopted flags with these designs and colors, until the unrest prior to the revolution, variations on merchant ships and to rally the colonists to their aims for independence carried mottos in Latin such as “conquer or die” or other provoking mottos (p. 135, Naval Ceremonies, Customs and Traditions, Naval Institute Press, 2004) and designs such as the Pine Tree. The Philadelphia Troop of Light Horse when it escorted General Washington to New York to take command of the Continental Army was first to bear thirteen stripes, representing the original colonies, in alternating blue and silver stripes. Commodore Hopkins raised a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag with thirteen stripes, a rattlesnake, and this motto on his ship the Alfred on 5 December 1775. During the bicentennial Independence year in 1976, it flew again as the jack on all Navy ships. In 2002, in response to the War on Terror, the “Don’t Tread on Me” jack was again flown. John Paul Jones, of whom so much of early American naval tradition rests, was commissioned a First Lieutenant in the new American Navy on 22 December 1775. From commissioning, in the company of Thomas Jefferson and John Hancock, he went aboard Commodore Hopkin’s flagship, the Alfred. Directed by John Hancock, with the Commodore and ship’s captain ashore, as senior officer John Paul Jones directed the first “American” flag, be hoisted from the mainmast. This is significant as the first American flag flying from a warship. From historical accounts, this ensign was likely the same flag raised by Washington’s troops in Boston a couple weeks later. The adoption of the national ensign, with the 13 alternating red and white stripes, with stars in a blue field representing the union occurred on 4 June 1777.  As for John Paul Jones, he received orders to command the Ranger the same day, and afterward he always believed his future and that of the new national ensign were linked. In the sea battle with the HMS Serapis, both ships were severely damaged.  As he transferred with surviving crew to the captured British vessel, the last view of sinking Bon Homme Richard was the “defiant waving of her unconquered and unstrucken (sic) flag as she went down” (report of John Paul Jones, ibid, p143).

Flag (top): flown from the Bon Homme Richard during battle. (bottom): the “Serapis” flag, when Jones sailed the captured ship from the Netherlands after the battle

With the admission of new states into the ‘united states’ in the last years of the Eighteenth Century, the design of the nation’s flag was subject to some controversy, over the number of stripes and stars.  The final design was established by Congress and signed into law in 1818 by President Monroe.  From that time forth, the stripes remained fixed as they appear today, but an additional star would be added to the blue field for every new state admitted.  

status symbol

I, like most veterans I know frequently wear at least one article of pride to commemorate our prior military service. Some wear articles that support a veterans’ organization, or something with embroidered patches that convey their affiliation. Some like me wear a t-shirt with a bald eagle and “veteran” statement. Others may display a seal for their particular branch of service and “Retired”, or the service mascot and commentary. A veteran’s favorite may sometimes take a good-natured jab at a rival service. We have bumper stickers, license plate frames, or a coffee mug with something that tells others we were in the military. Most veterans I know rarely go anywhere uncovered, which for the uninitiated means we wear a ballcap (or other head covering) we first adopted in the military as part of the uniform. And at least once a day in my travels around San Diego, I will see and acknowledge another veteran wearing a “Desert Storm” or “Vietnam” or “Afghanistan” service commemorative cap or window sticker on their vehicle.

What is your favorite way to commemorate your service, or for that of a family member?

flying cowboys in 1959

Under a lifelong commitment to protect national security of the United States, describing what my military peers and I did for a living was often reduced to generalizations and debunking some misconceptions that Hollywood movies make about protecting national security. Though there were some 1960’s-era generals at the time unopposed to being ordered to use nuclear weapons, the satire Dr Strangelove, lampoons that a rogue can instigate WWIII. Or at the dawn of the Computer Age, that a young civilian might connect to a DOD system, as in War Games, discounts that computers even then were isolated in secure networks. (However, a spy on the inside remains a hazard.) While thrilling, that rogue cells within the Intelligence bureaucracy could operate with efficiency and lethality outside of oversight, as in the Bourne films, seems too incredible. (However, the efficiency which the Russian security apparatus can eliminate political enemies highlights what sanctioned operations can achieve.) In Crimson Tide, a nuclear submarine commander (with a dog aboard(!) and officers might be near mutiny over whether to launch nukes is horrifying, but the crew selection and training process, security protocols and backup systems exist to prevent that. On the other hand, a glimpse into a typical mission day in the life of a nuclear-armed B-52 bomber is interesting in that it seems routine. For the last thirty years, nuclear war has seemed to be an artifact of history, but during the Cold War, military professionals conducted their duties in their flying “office”, preparing for a very real potential between nuclear-armed adversaries.

By accident, today I found a short film posted to YouTube, narrated by James Stewart, the renowned actor and WWII bomber pilot (and a Brigadier General in the Air Force Reserve) from 1959- the year I was born. For the last sixty-plus years, training has continued in that deterring war is most effective by trained and equally-lethal forces. With tensions rising again, with Russian aggression against Ukraine and China’s military reach growing, training will continue. Just as this short film depicts, each military professional does his or her duty hoping to go home at the conclusion of the “work day’.

fishing tales

A fisherman, a boat captain, and me put out from Dana Landing just before first light on a gray Saturday morning. The fisherman was experienced, the boat’s owner, a former Navy man but not a fisherman, was hoping for a large catch and me, a retired Navy Senior Chief, neither boat owner nor fisherman, was keeping a weather eye on the horizon. With choppy seas ahead, the fisherman brought along Dramamine. (We all took it.) Had I brought along any bananas? To the fisherman’s question, I responded none.

luck and bananas

Apparently, sailors should not bring bananas on a voyage if we wanted fishing luck. With eight years at sea in the Navy, the thought crosses my mind, had I “ever” seen bananas in the fresh fruit available on the mess decks? Apples and oranges, I remember, but never bananas. Sailing superstition links bananas to lost ships and cargoes. (I looked it up online.) I heard that overcast days are pretty good days for fishing. Our companion, a passionate fisherman, who knows where he has had success and what signs might mean good fishing, provided me a rod and reel. He also showed me how to properly tie a weight and hooks. The rest was left for me to figure out. Fish are not waiting for the unsuspecting fisherman to drop his line and jump on the hook.

seabirds and dolphins

Nine miles off Pacific Beach at mid-morning, the swells were past tolerable, and the overcast remained. With a couple larger boats in the distance, and seabirds, pelicans and dolphins for company, we found some floating kelp and put down our lines again. We took it for a good sign when the captain caught a seabass and the fisherman brought up a rock cod a little later. We decided against going farther out. (One of us admitted to being queasy.) We put down our lines again off Sunset Cliffs and determined the fish finder was not malfunctioning; it had not detected fish all morning. (The seabirds told us as much as neither tern, gull nor pelican were seen retrieving fish from the water at any point.) Back in the channel leading to Dana Point Landing that afternoon, I snagged two mackerel. No fish were worth keeping.

I learned a few things from our adventure. Overcast days do not suggest good fishing weather. The lack of bananas does not conversely bring good luck. Neither does bringing a large cooler. Dolphins do not mean lots of fish are about. And a bad day fishing is better than a good day working. Twelve hours after suggesting to our wives we’d be fishing “three or four (hours)” we got home. The fisherman is one I admire. He intended to play softball all the next day. I slept for ten straight hours. And might go to bed early tonight. But I have Craigslist and OfferUp dialed in; I’m looking for a rod and reel at the right price.

‘White Phosphorus’ Claimed To Be Used In Ukraine May Really Be Russian Napalm Weapon

https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidhambling/2022/03/25/white-phosphorus-may-really-be-soviet-napalm-weapon/

Use of white phosphorus is horrendously evil even for an enemy combatant. Use of napalm is only slightly less evil. When a regime has little regard for the suffering it causes, the ends justify the means. Only if the regime is not held to account, that is. When a modern military like Russia’s is deployed against Ukraine, a neighboring country under a pretext that nobody believed, and their expected quick occupation turns into an implacable David against a Goliath, weapons are turned against civilians even more readily.